Chapter 3: Fake Plastic Trees
Ginny gripped the seats around her in a desperate attempt to regain a hold on her senses. She locked eyes with an older woman a few rows in front of her. The woman wore a mop of steely grey tightly curled hair and the same stunned expression Ginny could feel on her own face. The passengers looked around at each other and their belongings. Miraculously, none of the luggage had fallen off the racks. It appeared the people were more discombobulated than their things.
Slowly, they all began to talk, wondering what had happened. Should they go down? Had they blown a tire? Had they hit something? Ginny looked out the window. She could see the driver walking around the bus and a few passengers from the lower level beginning to get off.
“I think they’re getting off the bus,” she announced. The hippie backpacker leaned forward past her to see for himself. She grimaced at him, but he ignored her.
“Let’s go down and take a look,” he said. He grabbed his pack, and headed down the aisle, and down the steps. The other passengers watched him and immediately gathered their belongings to follow his lead. How did he do that? Ginny wondered. He didn’t even have to say anything, people just automatically and cheerfully followed him. She thought about staying on the bus just to be contrary, and then when she was the only one left, realized she was being stupid. So she gathered her olive green bag and her purse, and went down the stairs to exit the bus.
When she disembarked, the bus driver was talking to the group of people assembled around him. Ginny tried to get closer, but she could barely hear him. The few words she did catch seemed to be in Dutch anyhow. She watched in utter confusion as the passengers looked in surprise at each other, talked amongst themselves, then turned to walk down the road in the direction they had been headed.
“What happened? Ce qui c’est passé?” Ginny tapped a young mother on the shoulder. The woman shifted her child from one hip to the other and looked at Ginny. “Ce qui c’est passé?” Ginny repeated. The woman shrugged at her and then began to walk along the road after the others.
The hippie backpacker came up behind her. “What happened is we’re walking.” He grinned at her, thoroughly at ease with the situation.
How could he be so cheerful at this moment? “You speak Dutch too?” she asked, annoyed.
He shrugged, ”Dutch? Nah. But he was speaking German. Anyhow, it’s kind of obvious isn’t it?”
“What’s obvious? I don’t even know what happened!”
“Come here, then,” he said, and gestured towards the other side of the bus. Perplexed, Ginny followed him to the front of the bus. She wasn’t keen to walk along the middle of the road, but there appeared to be no traffic, so after looking both ways three times, she followed him. He pointed to the flat tire. There was a mangled child-sized tricycle underneath the bus, handlebars lying three feet away in the road, and a large dent on the side of the bus.
“The driver said he had been fiddling with the radio, and he didn’t see the tricycle laying about in the road. He ran it over, popped the tire, and it looks like the handle bars split off and hit the side of the bus. Trouble is, it’s Sunday, so nobody’s working. And Monday’s a holiday, so the soonest we can get back on the road is at some point on Tuesday.”
“So what are we supposed to do now?” Ginny wondered.
“Well, everyone’s hoofing it to Liege.” He squinted into the distance. “Shouldn’t take more than a few hours. Just gotta’ hope there’s enough hotel space there.”
“Are you kidding me?”
He grinned at her. “Do you have any better ideas there, Red?”
“Stop calling me Red. I’m not even a red-head really,” she grumbled.
He gave a short laugh. “So then what do you call this?” He tugged on a strand of her hair that had come loose from her tightly bound twist.
“It’s auburn,” she sniffed.
He laughed and shook his head, ”Whatever, Red.”
“Well, if we have to catch a hotel, then we’d better get going,” she said, resigning herself to her fate. And so, picking up her bag, she started to walk. They walked together in silence. She was grateful that, for once, he had stopped his yammering and mostly left her alone to her thoughts.
As they walked, the morning had begun to fully bloom and the summer heat crawled over her skin and into her hair, until she began to sweat. Her tight fashionable skinny jeans quickly became impractical, as did her long, heavy pearl necklace. It wasn’t long before she took off the necklace and dropped it in her purse, wishing she could do the same with her jeans. She pulled down her hair and tied it back again in a looser ponytail.
“Getting hot there, Red, are you?” teased the backpacker.
Ginny walked along the road, trying to keep up pace with the other bus passengers ahead of them, but her flats were beginning to give her blisters. She hated her sensitive feet; they always blistered so easily.
She looked at the trees lining the road and the fields and tried not to laugh bitterly at her situation. What on earth was she doing, tramping about the European countryside like this? How had she let Dee talk her into this? Dee, her exotic pixie-like Asian friend was always the adventurous one. She would melt so easily into this situation just like the backpacker beside her. But Ginny wasn’t like that. She just felt lost and out of control. And in these fields, surrounded by an old world feel that was not her own, Ginny was truly out of her element. The little country houses might as well have been Disneyland for all she knew. Except at Disneyland, you knew you were surrounded by fake plastic trees. When she looked around here, she felt the centuries in the soil. Hadn’t this been what she had come for, she reminded herself. To feel something real again?
A yellow monarch butterfly flitted alongside her, bringing Ginny out of her thoughts for a moment as she watched. It hovered around her and then flitted lightly away. Ginny was suddenly hit with a vivid memory. In her college days, she used to go to the nearby butterfly conservatory to practice the cello. She could remember the smell of freshly-watered flowers and vines. She had loved the large wrought-iron gate she walked through every day, like the grand entrance to her own private wonderland, full of dangling vines and orchids, and butterflies bobbing and tripping along over the puddles and petals. She would set up a little stool in the corner, and within a few minutes be lost to Wagner and Chopin, Schubert and Bach.
Nostalgia hit her like a wave, and she felt the pit of her stomach drop when she thought of her cello sitting in the corner of her office collecting dust. When was the last time she had played? She couldn’t even remember. Certainly before she and Michael had gotten married. Six years? Had it really been that long? Somehow married life had kept her so busy that she stopped practicing. At first, she would just put it off until the next free moment. Except there never seemed to be a next free moment, so that slowly she began to forget about playing the cello other than in a few odd moments. But then in those moments, taking her cello out and tuning it seemed like too much of a chore, and so she never pulled it out. And eventually she had stopped thinking about it altogether. And for what? she thought, now looking back on her failure of a marriage. The trade did not seem fair at all.
The hippie backpacker nudged her out of her thoughts. He pointed at a sign, “Look, Liege is coming up. We’ll be there soon.”
Ginny breathed a sigh of relief. She was sure her feet were about to fall off. But then she began to worry. How on earth would she find a hotel? She hadn’t gotten a guidebook for Brussels, as the plan had been to just ride straight through to Romania. She had four different guidebooks on Romania. None of them told her a lick about Liege. In her head, she had imagined it would be a tiny, quaint little town. As the town came into view, she saw it was not tiny or quaint at all. It was a large, bustling city.
Oh God, she thought. I’m going to be totally lost.(to be continued…)
If you’re just joining the story…
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part I here.
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part II here.
Bus Ride to Bucharest, Part IV here.